Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories about the major local news of 2019. Today, we look at the city of Oneonta.

A dispute between the city and the landlords of 195 Main Street, developments at Damaschke Field and on Dietz Street, a large-scale underage drinking bust and significant turnover on the Common Council were among Oneonta’s top stories of 2019

Tenants ordered

to vacate 195 Main

The apartments within the property at 195 Main St., owned by Melania and Nicolae Pervu, were vacated of tenants this year after a 15-month dispute between the city and the property owners over code violations.

The city declared the apartments were unsafe in November 2017. In February 2019, after an inspection revealed multiple violations that still weren’t fixed by a January 2019 deadline, Otsego County Judge John Lambert ordered all residential tenants to vacate.

In a June 2019 hearing, Melania Pervu said code violations had been repaired by the January deadline and that photographic evidence of disrepair was from April 2018, not January 2019. According to court documents, the Pervus’ proof failed to sufficiently disprove the evidence presented by the city. In October 2019, Lambert signed a decision to hold the Pervus in contempt of court for failing to comply with court orders to make necessary repairs.

The building is now in commercial foreclosure, according to Otsego County Court documents. The Pervus purchased the property from Starplex Corporation in 2015, according to previous Daily Star reporting. They took mortgages of $396,717 from Starplex Corporation and $653,283 from Estate Development Co., according to the court documents.

Estate Development Co. and Starplex Corporation are represented by Cooperstown lawyer Robert W. Birch. He said to The Daily Star in December that there was a balloon payment on both mortgages that was never paid and that the owner never filed a legal response to the court after being served with the papers June 3, 2019.

Melania said she hasn’t responded to the papers because she wasn’t late on mortgage payments. She alleged that the bank she was working on refinancing the mortgages with canceled the transaction because of “illegal actions” taken against her by the city.

Birch said there is no auction date on the property yet and that it could be at least two months until this is determined because of steps involved in a foreclosure.

City plans mixed-use

building on Dietz Street

On Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, the site plan for the controversial Lofts on Dietz Street project was approved. One month later, five area business owners sued to halt the project.

In July 2019, the Oneonta Common Council confirmed its intent to authorize the sale of a portion of the Dietz Street parking lot to Parkview Development & Construction LLC as the preferred developer of a mixed-use building there.

It would take the space of about 50 parking spaces in the lot, Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig told The Daily Star in July. The new building’s tenants would have parking spots leased to them in the city’s municipal parking garage.

The building would include up to 64 housing units, about 40 of which would be affordable artist lofts, providing living and working spaces for local artists, Herzig said. The remainder would be affordable middle-income housing.

The city’s Common Council heard from constituents about the project at public hearings. Some people objected to it, unhappy about the loss of parking spaces. Others were in favor, looking forward to the vitality the project promised to bring to the city.

In early December 2019, five business owners announced they filed a lawsuit in Otsego County Supreme Court alleging that the city and other parties wrongfully approved the project.

Overhaul of

Damaschke Field

The demolition of the grandstand at Damaschke Field began in early October, with the box seats being removed, according to Oneonta Outlaws owner Gary Laing.

The city hopes to finish the first phase of construction for a new grandstand before the summer 2020 baseball season begins, Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig told The Daily Star in June.

In September 2018, Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, announced a $1 million grant from the state to renovate the grandstand. The concrete and steel structure underneath were deteriorating, as was the roof, where the press box is located, officials said at the time.

The first phase of the project will be to demolish the grandstand and create a temporary backstop so the field is ready for use by the start of the 2020 baseball season, Herzig said to The Daily Star in October. Full netting will be installed, which will protect all spectators from foul balls and flying bats, and some other upgrades will be made this year, he said.

The second phase, which won’t be done until the 2021 season, will be to replace the grandstand with a new facility that will include play areas for children. Herzig said the concept is to have a mixed-use facility containing some seats and an active area where people can picnic.

In November, the Common Council declared selected box seats from Damaschke Field as surplus property and authorized their sale. Proceeds will be used to finance improvements at Damaschke Field.

Hungerford resigns

as director of finance

In March 2019, the city’s director of finance resigned. Meg Hungerford had held the job for about a decade.

She had also stepped in twice as acting city manager, serving in that role for more than a year. Hungerford took on the responsibility in 2015 following the resignation of City Manager Martin Murphy, who had lost the confidence of the council, which had suspended him.

Hungerford resigned to work for the Walton Central School District. City Manager George Korthauer told The Daily Star in March that Hungerford wasn’t leaving because of any financial stresses in the city.

In a March interview with The Daily Star, Herzig credited Hungerford for her work balancing the city budget, helping deliver clean state audits in recent years, as well as improving the city’s financial grade. In 2017, Standard and Poor’s Global Ratings raised the city of Oneonta’s long-term rating to “AA-” from “A+” on its general obligation debt. City officials said taxpayers would save because the city saves on interest paid for its bonds.

Hungerford was replaced by Virginia Lee, city deputy director of finance at the time. Lee stepped into the role of acting finance director immediately after Hungerford left, and was officially hired after the city conducted a search.

Changes in O-H Fest

O-H Fest’s spring concert was canceled this year after the city pulled a permit issued to the SUNY Oneonta Student Association to allow the performance in Neahwa Park. In November, SUNY Oneonta officials announced the 2020 concert would take place at the college’s Alumni Field House and not Neahwa Park and that it would not host a street fair. SUNY Oneonta Student Association President Tim Nolan said the change in venue is to ensure that a planned concert doesn’t fall through again.

SUNY Oneonta also announced in November that officials from both colleges decided Hartwick college students wouldn’t be involved in this year’s planning. The SUNY Oneonta Student Association will be the sole sponsor of what is being billed as “O-Fest XV.”

O-H Fest is a celebration planned by the students of SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College. The 2019 concert, featuring Sean Kingston, was supposed to take place in April.

Given less than 36 hours to change the venue, the college was left with a choice to cancel the OH-Fest XIV concert or find another site, such as Alumni Field House, officials said.

City and college officials cited public safety worries in deciding to cancel the OH-Fest concert by rapper Sean Kingston in Oneonta’s Neahwa Park or on the SUNY Oneonta campus. Two students said SUNY Oneonta officials hadn’t responded adequately to their concerns about hosting Kingston, a performer accused but not convicted of sex crimes years ago.

Sip and Sail bar’s license

suspended after sting

The Oneonta bar Sip and Sail, owned by Adrian E. Origoni, lost its liquor license Wednesday, Nov. 20 after a raid the week before revealed about 90% of its patrons were underage.

William Crowley, a spokesperson for the New York State Liquor Authority, said complaints of underage drinking and sales to intoxicated patrons, led to a “compliance inspection” by investigators from the SLA, the state Department of Motor Vehicles, the New York State Police and the Oneonta Police Department.

SLA investigators said they saw two direct sales to minors. They also obtained 43 statements from minors who admitted to consuming alcohol provided by other patrons or purchased from bartenders. DMV investigators and OPD officers issued 138 appearance tickets to minors for possession of fictitious or fraudulent identification and confiscated 223 fake IDs, Crowley said.

On Tuesday, Nov. 19, the SLA charged the Sip & Sail Tavern with 53 violations of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law, including 47 counts of selling to a minor, exceeding maximum occupancy, failure to supervise and employing unlicensed bouncers.

Rail yards

The draft and final generic environmental impact statements for the Oneonta Rail Yards redevelopment project were approved by the Common Council this year.

The redevelopment plans were prompted by the Otsego County Industrial Development Agency umbrella group, Otsego Now. Oneonta Common Council took the lead on the environmental impact review in 2018.

The goal of the redevelopment project is to create a new commercial business park that would provide additional markets for Otsego County, create new jobs and add to the local tax base, according to a January letter in The Daily Star by Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig.

At a February Common Council meeting, there was a common theme of disappointment among the public for the content of the draft GEIS appearing to favor natural gas over more sustainable options. At a March public hearing regarding the DGEIS, residents again urged the city to reject any plan to bring more natural gas and gas infrastructure to the community.

In June 2019, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act was passed, requiring the state of New York to “achieve a carbon free electricity system by 2040 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions 85% below 1990 levels by 2050,” according to www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-executes-nations-largest-offshore-wind-agreement-and-signs-historic-climate.

According to an August 2019 Oneonta Rail Yard Redevelopment findings statement, “Given the uncertainty on how these mandates will be achieved, it is premature for the City Council to predict what will or will not be available or feasible as an energy source available in the future.”

City makes plans for converting streetlights to LED

The city in 2019 committed more than $1 million to converting streetlights to LED fixtures.

As part of a project to convert city streetlights to LED, the city will purchase 1,094 streetlights and associated facilities from New York State Electric and Gas.

The New York Power Authority will provide financing for the purchase of the street lighting system and cover the cost of the replacement bulbs, and the city will repay NYPA through a long-term financing program.

Mayor Gary Herzig at the Tuesday, Oct. 15 Common Council meeting said the new LED lights, which are more efficient and will be of higher quality than the current streetlights, will have an expected payback through saved electricity costs of around 10 years.

According to the city’s Streets and Utilities Master Plan for 2020, in addition to purchasing streetlights from NYSEG and converting to LED fixtures, the city will install smart nodes on each fixture to enable remote monitoring and control.

City elections

The Oneonta Common Council will have six new faces in 2020. The election was held Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Regardless of party lines, many candidates during their campaigns expressed desires to increase business opportunities in the city, attract and keep a younger population and increase communication with constituents in their wards.

Current council members David Rissberger, 48, and John Rafter, 72, ran unopposed for their Third and Seventh ward seats on the council, respectively. They are both Democrats.

Michele Frazier, D-First Ward, 40, was running unopposed for the First Ward seat, but decided to move to the Delhi area after it was too late to be removed from the ballot. 

Democrat Luke Murphy, a 26-year-old write-in candidate, secured the First Ward seat.

In the Second Ward, Democrat Mark Davies defeated Republican Seth Peter Clark to win the seat being vacated by Melissa Nicosia, a Democrat.

In the Fourth Ward, Democrat Kaytee Lipari Shue defeated Republican Jerid Goss for the seat held by Michelle Osterhoudt, a Democrat. Osterhoudt resigned from her position Nov. 30, a month before her term was set to expire.

In the Fifth Ward, Republican Len Carson flipped a seat for his party, defeating Danielle Tonner. Carson will replace Democrat Dana Levinson, who did not seek re-election.

The Republicans held a seat in the Sixth Ward, where Republican Scott Harrington defeated Democrat Mark Boshnack, to replace retiring Republican Russ Southard. Southard did not seek reelection after his second term on the council. Southard had served as the city’s acting mayor for 12 months after the death of former Mayor Richard Miller in 2014.

The final contested race was in the Eighth Ward, where Democrat Mark Drnek defeated Republican Joshua Bailey to replace Joseph Ficano, a Democrat, who did not seek re-election.

The new council members will take office Wednesday, Jan. 1. 

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221.

Recommended for you